Gale's View - 14/03/2018
March 14th 2018
I hold no brief for Mr. Putin`s neo-Soviet Union. As the Leader of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE – not to be confused, please, with the European Parliament) I spend much time with my British colleagues holding the line while some of our other NATO allies wish to roll over and put their paws in the air.
Since the unlawful annexation of Crimea and Russian forces` involvement in Eastern Ukraine the Russian Federation has been barred from voting in the PACE. This led to a walkout by the Russians and Putin is now trying to blackmail the Assembly into submission by withholding many billions of Euros in funding due as their contribution to the work of the organisation. Later this week I and my Labour counterpart will once again be in meetings ramming home the message that our principles are not for sale and that human rights and international conventions have to be adhered to by nations that wish to be respected and trusted as part of the civilised international community.
I mention this in the context of the attempted assassination of Sergei Skripal, the former double agent now living in Salisbury.
It is always difficult to write to meet a deadline in the face of fast-moving events and it is highly likely that by the time this appears in print there will have been further significant developments that will have shed light into the dark corners of this murky affair. At the time of writing, however, we simply do not know which nation or group of criminal activists has sought to poison, by nerve gas, Mr. Skripal and his daughter. It is therefore wrong to suggest, as some in high places have done, that we should take precipitate action in retaliation against Mr. Putin`s regime and neither has it been true that our Prime Minister is showing a lack of resolve over this issue.
The populists, and that sadly includes the Editors of a number of newspapers and broadcast media outlets as well as some dial-a-quote politicians , have clearly made up their minds and want our Government to “punish the Russians”. Theresa May and the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, both of whom have access to rather better intelligence than others, are biding their time and have been waiting for hard facts and evidence of guilt.
It is, of course, wholly unacceptable for any agent of any Country or group, to seek to take life on British soil or to place the wellbeing of the population and our emergency services at risk. The fact that one brave policeman has also been a victim of this crime highlights the severity of the matter and if it transpires that the assassins were acting on behalf of Mr.Putin, the Russian Government or the “McMafia” then an appropriate, proportionate and measured response will have to be taken. The suggestion that, as one Commons wag put it, “we might refuse to send Clare Balding to the World Cup” would fall rather short of what will be required!
If we are to take such robust retaliatory action as is practicable and enforceable, though, then we must have just cause and sufficient evidence of guilt to know that we are acting lawfully To do otherwise or to seek to pre-empt the findings would not only be dangerous but would drag us down to the same level as those that some would hastily wish to accuse of wrongdoing.
Difficult, also, to write in advance of a Chancellor`s Spring statement that will have been made by the time that this column goes to print. I would like to think, though, that the voices of many of us will have been heard and that financial measures will be introduced to reduce the quantity of single-use plastic items that are generated in or used by the United Kingdom and that ultimately find themselves polluting the waters and the beaches of not only our own Country but of the World.We could make a very modest start by getting rid of the plastic teaspoons currently still available in the tearoom of the House of Commons!
Sir Roger Gale MP
Herne Bay, North Thanet & the Villages